Tag Archives: Josh Doherty

Palace Give the Youngsters a Harsh Lesson

Welcome to Imperial Fields

Welcome to Imperial Fields

Another day, another match. There were things I should have been doing this afternoon, so I toyed with giving the game a miss, but then I found out that the Palace U21s played at Tooting and Mitcham’s Imperial Fields and the opportunity to visit a new ground was one I couldn’t pass up. I alighted at Mitcham Junction and followed the directions that I had obtained which sent me through an industrial estate where I met a dead end. The only way out appeared to be an umpromising looking dirt track which, thankfully, took me to the road that I needed and I was soon at the ground. One glimpse of the Watford team coach and all was right with my world.

Since an entrance fee was charged for the game, a team sheet was provided, which was just as well as there were a couple of unfamiliar faces in the Watford line-up. Since the Hornets have a League Cup game tomorrow, the line-up was very young. We started with Gartside, Doherty, Sesay, Johnson, Young, Obi, Orsi-Dadomo, Montavez, Lewis, Folivi and Jakubiak. I had assumed that the two central midfielders that I hadn’t seen before were young scholars, but later found out that they were trialists.

Jakubiak prepares to take the first penalty

Jakubiak prepares to take the first penalty

The home side had an early chance as a ball over the top reached Allassani who was clean through but Gartside saved the shot with his feet. Gartside came to meet the corner and pushed it clear but the whistle was blown for a foul on the keeper. Allassani was allowed to break clear again, but this time his shot was well over the target. Jakubiak did really well to retain the ball which he played out to Obi whose cross was blocked. The home side took the lead in the 13th minute as Bissaka played the ball to Anderson, a former Watford youngster, who coolly shot past Gartside. Rather surprisingly, Watford struck back almost immediately. Folivi was tripped as he ran into the box. Jakubiak stepped up and sent Gregory the wrong way to level the scores. Soon after, Obi was fouled on the edge of the box, earning Akiotu a booking, but the free-kick came to nothing. A corner from Gray was met with a header from Croll which flashed wide. Gray then had a decent chance himself but Gartside’s legs came to the rescue again. A good Watford move finished with a poor header into the ground from Jakubiak which was easily gathered by the Palace keeper. Allassani advanced down the left and unleashed a shot which rebounded off the crossbar. The rain had been steady to this point, but now the heavens opened.

Lewis takes a free kick

Lewis takes a free kick

The home side continued to dominate as Akiotu cut the ball back to Allassani whose shot was heading for the corner until Gartside dropped to make the save. Watford attacked through Folivi but the keeper came out to save at his feet. At the other end, a header from Anderson was straight at Gartside. George then battled into the box before finding Anderson whose shot was saved. Palace regained the lead on 25 minutes as Watford lost the ball from a throw in, Allassani crossed for Anderson who I believed had an easy tap-in past Gartside, but the ball actually came off a Watford player. At this point, the bloke sitting behind me, who was also labouring under this misapprehension, started speculating when Anderson’s hat-trick would come and drawing comparisons with a game in which they had scored a shedload. It seemed a bit premature given how wasteful their finishing had been. A powerful shot from Gray was blocked by Gartside, who also saved the follow-up shot. Anderson had a couple of decent chances to increase the lead, but he failed to connect with a free-kick from Gray and then sent a free kick of his own wide of the target. A break from Gray was stopped by a push from Sesay who received a yellow card for the offence. The home side scored their third just before half-time as an Allassani free-kick was turned in at the far post by Bissaka.

Half-time was greeted with thunder and lightning to match my mood. I decided to move seats at the break to sit at the end that we were attacking and also so I didn’t have to listen to the chap behind me cheerfully celebrating any more goals (I’m a sore loser).

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

As at the Sheffield Wednesday game, the home side were out early for the second half and waited some time for the Watford team to emerge. The young Hornets may have been better to have stayed in the changing room as they were soon 4-1 down as Anderson scored his second. I didn’t see the build-up to the goal as I had been distracted by Keith Millen coming to talk to Alec Chamberlain who was sitting a few rows in front of me. The Hornets could have been further behind as Allassani broke through on goal, but Gartside spread himself and saved the shot. Anderson had a chance to claim his hat trick as he got on the end of a cross from Allassani but he crashed the ball wide. He made no mistake on 52 minutes after Gray broke free of the defence before finding the striker in space to shoot across Gartside and in. At this point young Nathan stayed lying on the turf. He’d made some great saves but still seen five goals go past him. From my perspective, I was very happy that I had decided to move seats. Watford’s first substitution saw Charles come on for Orsi-Dadomo. Just before the hour mark, Watford had a decent attacking spell. First, the impressive Montavez played the ball out to Lewis whose cross was blocked. Then a corner fell to Johnson on the edge of the box and his shot hit the corner of the post and crossbar.

Folivi takes a corner

Folivi takes a corner

A good ball from Montavez found Lewis who crossed for Obi who ended up in the net while the ball drifted wide. Next Jakubiak played the ball back to Obi who hit a weak shot straight at the keeper. Palace substitute Berkeley-Agyepong found George in the box, where he was upended by a late tackle from Sesay. The referee pointed to the spot and Dymond stepped up to shoot past Gartside to put Palace 6-1 ahead. Watford’s second substitution saw Makaka replace Montavez. A corner from Folivi was headed back by Obi to Johnson who attempted an overhead kick that flew wide. Palace won a throw-in which was taken as Folivi was tying his laces, so I was impressed when Allassani sportingly played the ball back to his keeper rather than mounting an attack with a Watford player out of commission. Folivi then had the ball on the edge of the Palace box, but hesitated so Obi took the ball off his feet and hit a shot that was blocked. Watford won a second penalty as Obi ran into the box, he fell over as Forte ran behind him. I didn’t see any contact, but the referee pointed to the spot and Jakubiak stepped up to score his second of the game. Substitute Charles tried a shot from distance that was blocked. Palace had a late chance as Anderson went on a run and crossed for Allassani who was unable to connect so the ball flew wide and the game finished with a 6-2 win for the home side.

As I left, I caught Alec’s eye and he observed “That was tough.” “It was tough to watch.” The young Watford lads had been given a lesson. The opponents looked older and more experienced and didn’t give the young Hornets much space on the ball. The conditions didn’t help as the pitch became very slick which led to a number of players falling, but both teams had to deal with the same conditions. Special mention should go to young Nathan Gartside who made a number of great stops and I really felt for him having conceded 6. Of the outfield players, I liked the look of Montavez who has no little skill and did a decent job in the centre of midfield.

To add insult to injury, the rain continued to bucket down as I walked back to the station and I made the mistake of following a sign which took me down a path which had turned into a stream so I ended up squelching on to the train. A miserable end to an unhappy afternoon.

The Development Squad Arrives in the Premier League

Welcome to Wednesday's Training Ground

Welcome to Wednesday’s Training Ground

I have to admit to being delighted at the news that Watford were upgrading their Academy to EPPP2 status, if only because it meant that the Development squad would be playing in a league. I wasn’t quite so thrilled to find out that many of the games would be early afternoon, but the first coincided with some time off work so, what better way to spend a Summer Monday than to take a trip to Sheffield Wednesday’s training ground.

I thought I had left loads of time to get there, but there was no sign of a tram to Middlewood so I took the blue line to Hillsborough and started walking. Needless to say, I soon spotted the Middlewood tram behind me so ran to the next tram stop and managed to catch it. Instructions on how to reach the training ground had been ambiguous, so I asked the young tram conductor whether I should get off at Leppings Lane or Middlewood. She suggested the latter, although wasn’t totally convinced. I had just spotted the sign for the ground when she came back with a relieved smile to point it out to me and the Middlewood stop was just around the corner. Perfect! As always when reaching an unfamiliar venue, I was very happy to see the team coach. The car park was full, but there was only a little space to watch the game that wasn’t behind a net.

Kewell and McGuane

Kewell and McGuane

When I arrived, the players were warming up. It was good to see Alec Chamberlain there working with the goalkeepers. I then saw Harry Kewell. Good heavens, coaches are getting very young. To my aged eyes, he could have been one of the U21s. As Alec returned to the changing rooms before the game, he was greeted by a Wednesday player, our old friend Lewis McGugan.

The starting line-up was a mix of young professionals and scholars plus a trialist … and Gilmartin. The team was Gilmartin, Doherty, Trialist, Johnson, Hoban, Martin, Smith, Byers, Lewis, Jakubiak and Mensah.

Prior to kick-off there were no arches on show, but there was the ‘respect’ handshake. Watford started brightly with shots from Mensah and Lewis blocked in quick succession. At the other end, our trialist blocked a shot from Croasdale, the follow-up from Mufata was hit well over the target. Jakubiak won a free kick on the edge of the box, which Byers blasted over the crossbar. Mensah went on a run through the middle and passed to Martin on the left but the winger’s shot was gathered by Dawkins. At the other end a cross from Stobbs was straight at Gilmartin. After about 10 minutes, there was a long break in play due to an injury to Croasdale. I didn’t see the tackle, but the Wednesday fans around me were not impressed. Sadly the lad was taken off on a stretcher buggy.

Captain Johnson on a run down the wing

Captain Johnson on a run down the wing

After the restart, Martin made an impressive run down the left wing but his cross was disappointingly long. Hornby beat Watford’s trialist and bore down on goal, he really should have scored but hit his shot wide. A cross from Smith was blocked but reached Martin who headed down to Mensah who was offside. Martin played the ball out to Doherty whose cross was headed clear but came back to Martin whose shot was poor and flew wide of the near post. An impressive run from Connor Smith came to nothing as his shot was blocked. Then a Wednesday free kick was comfortably caught by Gilmartin. Confusion in the home defence gifted the ball to Mensah, but he was frustrated by a last ditch tackle from De Haviland. There were appeals for a penalty as the trialist seemed to bundle one of the Wednesday players over in the box, but the lino had the flag up and explained to anyone that was listening (I was) that the offside had occurred first. Mufata tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.

Jakubiak on the ball

Jakubiak on the ball

I was then distracted by some action near the dug outs as a lad who, judging by the fact that he was wearing gloves, appeared to be Wednesday’s substitute keeper climbed up a wall alongside the pitch to retrieve a ball that was stuck in the branches of a tree. You wouldn’t see that in the Premier League. Martin did brilliantly on the left beating a couple of players and then advancing along the byline beating another before cutting the ball back to Jakubiak whose shot was blocked. Martin exchanged passes with Mensah before hitting a cross that was too long for Lewis to reach. Despite the long break for the injury to Croasdale, there were only a couple of minutes added at the end of the half and the teams went in scoreless.

Wednesday were out early for the second half and even the officials were on the field before the Watford squad appeared although it was only 2:01, so they’d taken their normal half time break.

The visitors had the first chance of the second half with a shot from Mensah that lacked power and was touched back to the keeper by one of the defenders. A decent shot from Jakubiak was saved by the keeper’s legs. Gilmartin was in action at the other end, pushing a corner clear. The follow up was headed away before a cross came in that eluded all the players in the box. Just before the hour, Martin passed the ball out to Lewis whose cross was just too long for Mensah to reach. Booker broke down the right for Wednesday but Doherty was on hand to block for the corner.

Martin takes a corner

Martin takes a corner

A lovely passing move upfield finished disappointingly as Jakubiak’s flick to Mensah found a defender blocking the Watford forward’s progress. At the other end, Hirst shot straight at Gilmartin. Watford threatened again as Lewis hit a long cross that reached Martin whose cross was just missed by the head of Mensah. A Wednesday free kick came to nothing as it cleared the wall but flew straight into the arms of Gilmartin. Watford’s first substitution came in the 65th minute as Obi replaced Lewis. Another Watford chance went begging as Jakubiak touched the ball back to Mensah who hit it over the target. Then a Smith pass was intercepted, Wednesday advanced upfield where Meadows received the ball in space, Gimartin caught the shot, but the linesman was already flagging for offside. A cross from Jakubiak was put out for a corner by Wildin. With 15 minutes remaining, Byers was booked for a cynical trip to prevent a lad progressing down the wing.  Watford’s second substitution saw Makaka replacing Smith. Then Martin found Obi whose shot was blocked, as was the follow-up from Jakubiak.

Substitute Ogo Obi

Substitute Ogo Obi

Another lovely move saw Martin breaking into the box and finding Mensah who juggled the ball to Obi who was in an offside position. Mensah then played a pass for Jakubiak to run on to, but the keeper, Dawson, got to the ball first. Watford should have taken the lead as Jakubiak broke into the box and his shot rebounded to Byers who unleashed a tremendous strike that Dawson did really well to push over the bar. The corner was a little too high for Hoban who could only head it over. Watford had a further chance of a late winner as a cross from Martin reached Makaka who headed wide when he should have tested the keeper.

So, despite the dominance of the visitors, the game ended goalless. There was some lovely approach play from the Hornets, but they were dreadfully wasteful with their finishing. The trialist was a bit ponderous in the centre of the defence so didn’t impress me greatly.

As the Watford coaches left the pitch, Alec was able to catch up with another old friend as Terry Burton was in attendance. I also took the opportunity to thank our former coach for his sterling work in difficult times. He said that Watford had been one of his best experiences in football citing the semi-final as justification. It was lovely to hear that he has good memories of his time with us.

On the way out, I also had a good chat to Academy head, Chris McGuane, so, despite the result, I left Sheffield with a good feeling about the whole of the club.

No Shame in Defeat at St Mary’s

Pre-match formalities

Pre-match formalities

The quarter-final of the Premier League U21 Cup saw a young Watford side travelling to Southampton.  The game had been rescheduled from the previous week due to the Saints’ involvement in the FA Youth Cup, so I found myself torn between a visit to the Royal Court to see Maxine Peake in a new play or to St Mary’s to see the young Hornets.  I opted for the latter.

On arrival in the stadium, our lads were warming up and I noted a couple of very young looking boys were taking part.  Jon Marks very kindly informed me that these were U13 players who had been rewarded for hard work with the chance to travel with the U21 team, which was a nice touch.  There were only a handful of Watford fans in the crowd so we all acknowledged each other and I made the acquaintance of a couple of other WML members, which was rather lovely.

This was the youngest U21 team that I have seen this season, with all the outfield players within the age group.  The starting line-up was Gilmartin, Doherty, Savic, Johnson, Young, Byers, O’Nien, Martin, Folivi, Lewis and Mensah.

Folivi waits to take a corner

Folivi waits to take a corner

The game started disastrously for the young Hornets as Djuričić, recently arrived on loan from Benfica, played a through ball to Sinclair who timed his run perfectly so had only the keeper to beat, which he did with a casual dink.  The goal was timed at 70 seconds.  At this point, I was regretting my choice of entertainment for the evening but it soon improved immensely.  Our first chance came from Luke O’Nien who tried to chip the keeper from distance, but the ball cleared the crossbar.  There was a frantic spell around the Southampton box as first Folivi was stopped from shooting, then Mensah’s cross was blocked, finally the ball came out to Martin whose shot was wide of the near post.  Soon after, Martin broke forward and tried to find Mensah in the box, but his pass went behind his team mate.  Mensah then turned provider for Martin but the shot was blocked.  Next Folivi played a high ball to Mensah in the box which he couldn’t control.  At the other end Hesketh found Seager who blazed his shot over the bar.

Celebrating Mensah's goal

Celebrating Mensah’s goal

Johnson played the ball out to Lewis whose cross was blocked and flew out for a corner.  From the set piece, Savic got under the ball and directed his header over the bar.  The dangerous Djuričić broke forward and ran the length of the pitch before passing to Sinclair whose shot was blocked by the feet of Gilmartin.  Mensah tried a looping shot that fooled the keeper who could only put it out for a corner.  Savic, again, got his head to the delivery but Gazzaniga caught it comfortably.  A lovely passing move found Doherty on the left but his cross was cut out.  On the half hour, Hesketh played a through ball to Gape whose shot hit the side netting.  The visitors were level on 34 minutes as Folivi played Mensah in, he beat the defence and finished coolly.  It was no more than the young Hornets deserved as they had been excellent since the goal.  The Saints fans were shouting for a penalty soon after as O’Nien, who was on the ground at the time, appeared to use his arm when clearing the ball but the referee didn’t agree.  Folivi made a good run, but was stopped by a robust challenge on the edge of the box.  Into time added on at the end of the half, Hesketh shot from the edge of the box but Gilmartin was equal to it.  At the other end Byers released Folivi whose shot was straight at Gazzaniga.

So, honours even at half time.  It had been a terrifically entertaining half with a lot of attacking play from the young Hornets and the home side mostly restricted to counter attacks.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

The second half started in the same manner as the first as Seager broke down the right, his cross was parried by Gilmartin but fell to Djuričić whose first shot was blocked on the line by Jorell Johnson, but the Serb made no mistake with his follow-up.  It was harsh on the Hornets who now had to start again.  They responded well as Young played the ball to Folivi whose cross was just a bit too high for Mensah in the box.  A cross-field pass reached Mensah on the right, he played it back to Martin who showed too much of the ball to the defender and the chance was lost.  Djuričić had the ball in the net again, but the flag was up.  Lewis played a deep cross to Mensah but the young forward headed over the bar.  Martin cut inside to get himself into a great scoring position, but his shot was weak and wide of the near post.  Martin’s next attempt to break was stopped by Gape, who was booked for the offence.  Byers took the free kick which was firmly held by Gazzaniga.  On 67 minutes Young made way for Obi and the Hornets went to three at the back.  Soon after Djuričić made way for Little, much to the relief of the visitors.

Byers and Mensah line up a free kick

Byers and Mensah line up a free kick

With 10 minutes remaining on the clock, the Saints increased their lead as Sinclair broke forward before playing the ball to Hesketh who squared for Sims to slide the ball past Gilmartin.  The scoreline didn’t reflect the balance of play.  Just before full time, Sims appeared to have scored a fourth for the home side but, again, the flag was raised.  Watford grabbed a consolation in time added on as Doherty fed Folivi who shot past Gazzaniga.  The 3-2 final score was a much fairer reflection of a game in which the young Hornets had put in a great performance that was let down only by slow starts to each half.  They should certainly hold their heads high after what was a thoroughly entertaining evening’s football, which was well worth missing the theatre for.

Watford’s Youngsters Crush Leeds

The teams take the field

The teams take the field

This evening was my first visit to the Upper GT stand since the commemorative posters were put up.  Each one of them evoked memories that brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.  But tonight was about the future.  The starting line-up included the permitted three overage players plus an overage goalkeeper and was Gilmartin, Doherty, Savic, Young, Martin, O’Nien, Byers, Murray, Mensah, Ranegie and Fabbrini.  Apparently Savic is a Serbian triallist.  Among the crowd, it was lovely to see David Hughes back to see the youngsters that he used to train.

As the teams emerged from the tunnel the ref decided that they should face the SEJ stand for the respect handshakes.  This benefitted their non-playing team mates and the benches, but meant that they had their backs turned to all the paying punters.

Much amusement after Mensah scored the third

Much amusement after Mensah scored the third

The visitors started brightly but Watford took the lead in the fourth minute.  Luke O’Nien, fresh from his goalscoring exploits for Wealdstone against home town club, Hemel, advanced to the edge of the box and as Don was yelling “Not from there,” belted it into the top corner.  A couple of minutes later Fabbrini went on a great run and passed to O’Nien whose shot from the angle was pushed out by the Leeds keeper, Grimes.  From our viewpoint, the corner appeared to have been headed the other side of the post, but Grimes emerged with the ball that he had retrieved from the net and the lino signalled that Doherty had scored.  It wasn’t all Watford, Leeds had a chance to reduce the deficit when a clearance came back to Stokes but Gilmartin was behind his shot.  Then Phillips got on the end of a cross from Dawson but headed over the target.  Murray played a one-two with Fabbrini, his shot from an angle bounced off the inside of the far post, Skelton’s attempted clearance hit Mensah and flew in to put Watford three goals up after 21 minutes.

O'Nien after scoring his second goal of the night

O’Nien after scoring his second goal of the night

Watford’s fourth came 15 minutes later as Fabbrini released Martin whose cross was met by Ranegie, his shot was blocked but the ball fell to O’Nien who made no mistake for his second goal of the night.  The fifth came soon after as Fabbrini hit a lovely curling shot into the top corner.  The first booking of the evening went to Purver of Leeds for clattering O’Nien, who was proving to be a menace.  In the dying minutes of the half, Leeds tried to strike back as Stokes broke clear and unleashed a shot but it was over the target.  It had been a tremendous half of football by the young Hornets who had hardly let the visitors have a sight of the ball, played some lovely passing football and been clinical in their finishing.

Fair play to the Leeds team, then, for coming out and having a go in the second period.  They had a shot in the first minute of the half, but Parkin’s shot was blocked by Gilmartin.  Booker was the next to have a go, his shot was blocked and fell to Parkin whose strike was easily caught by Gilmartin.

Traillist Savic

Traillist Savic

At the other end, Murray tried a curler from distance but it flew past the far post.  Parkin continued to threaten as a low cross was cut out by Doherty.  A lovely Watford move finished with a low cross/shot from Martin which Grimes pushed around the post.  The second Leeds booking went to Parkin, again for a tackle on O’Nien.  This had been a good spell for Watford, but Leeds were still pressing as a shot from distance from Skelton flew high and wide.  Watford made their first substitution just after the hour mark with triallist Savic, who had a decent game in the centre of defence, making way for Rowan.  Watford’s sixth goal came soon after as Ranegie ran into the box, held off the defender and shot into the roof of the net.  Watford made another change with Lewis coming on for Martin, so Mensah moved to the left.  I take full responsibility for the Leeds consolation as I commented that we might have won this game just before Phillips won a tackle and advanced into the box before playing the ball back to Dawson who beat Gilmartin.  Watford continued to threaten the Leeds goal as Fabbrini passed to Lewis who picked the ball up at the corner flag and did really well to keep it in and beat the defender to get in a low cross, but nobody could apply the finishing touch.

Congratulations for Ranegie after scoring Watford's sixth goal

Congratulations for Ranegie after scoring Watford’s sixth goal

A Murray free-kick into the box reached Ranegie, but he got under the header and it looped over the bar.  At the other end, Phillips had a free header from a cross to the far post but directed it into the side netting.  Watford’s final substitution saw Folivi come on for Fabbrini.  Gilmartin had to drop to save a low shot from Leeds sub Mulhern.  With 10 minutes to go, Watford were down to ten men as Mensah limped off.  O’Nein, who had so often been on the wrong end of Leeds tackles, got his own back and was booked for taking down a Leeds player as he tried to break.  Leeds hadn’t given up and a looping cross was headed goalwards by Mulhern but Gilmartin was there to gather the ball.  Ranegie was booked after complaints from the Leeds players that he had used an elbow.  Mulhern had been a constant danger since he came on, so it was a relief to see his cross/shot tipped over by Gilmartin.  Leeds earned another booking as Phillips was penalised for taking Lewis down as he attempted a break.  In time added on there were chances for both sides as, first, Folivi tried a shot from distance that was easy for Grimes then Mulhern came for a header, but the challenge of Gilmartin ensured that he directed it over the bar.

So, an impressive win for the youngsters but the visitors certainly deserved great credit for not giving up despite being 6-1 down.  Finally, thanks must go to Dave, the steward in the Lower GT disabled enclosure who was beyond helpful in ensuring that we got out of the stadium with the minimum of effort.

Stone the Crows

Garden Walk

Garden Walk

In the Herts Senior Cup there is an expectation of nice local (to Watford) fixtures but drawing Royston meant a journey to the opposite end of the county.  I work 30 miles from Watford, so it was a bit of a shock to the system when, after picking Don up, I entered Garden Walk into my sat nav to be told that I still had another 35 miles to go.

Having called Royston Town and been assured that there was a disabled parking space available (and hoping it hadn’t been nabbed by someone else), I pulled up to the gates at Garden Walk and knocked.  I was greeted by a quizzical look from the steward who then kindly directed me to a parking space right by the club house.  His only request was that I leave a space next to me.  When I looked, I saw that the disabled space was next to the President’s, so the space was duly left.

The 'respect' handshakes

The ‘respect’ handshakes

When we arrived, the players were warming up and, while queuing at the tea bar, I turned to see a yellow-shirted player returning to the dressing room.  I did a double take when I realized it was Diego Fabbrini.  Now these foreign players are all very well, but how will they do on a cold Tuesday night in Royston?  We were about to find out.

The starting line-up was a nice mixture of youth and experience:  Gilmartin, Kyprianou, Doherty, Smith, Rowan, Hoban, Fabbrini, Byers, Lewis, Murray and Martin.

There was an early scare for the Hornets as Gilmartin came to catch a free-kick, was impeded and dropped the ball which was, thankfully, cleared off the line.  Watford immediately launched a counter attack which finished with Fabbrini tumbling in the box.  I couldn’t help laughing, but Diego soon redeemed himself.  His next action was to cut the ball back for Byers to shoot, but the Royston keeper, Ron Yates (yes, really), saved.  Byers broke into the box again passing to Lewis whose shot was parried to safety.  It wasn’t all Watford as a cross from Watters was headed out for a corner.  Lewis got on the end of a cross from Murray heading it goalwards but, again, Yates was equal to it.  Lewis then turned provider cutting the ball back for Smith to shoot but the shot was blocked.

Watford defend a corner

Watford defend a corner

Royston won a corner and Gilmartin had to stretch to push the ball clear.  Then a ball was played over the top to Fehmi who shot wide of the near post.  A cross field ball released Fabbrini, but he couldn’t find room for a shot.  Royston took the lead in the 18th minute as a cross from Bradshaw was headed home by Fehmi.  This provoked chants of “Championship, you’re having a laugh” from the home fans.  Watford tried to hit back immediately but Lewis failed to connect with a decent cross from Smith.  The equalizer came on 26 minutes as Martin did well to keep the ball in on the left touchline, he released Lewis who beat his marker for pace before crossing to Fabbrini who, with his back to goal, found time to turn and bury the ball past Yates.  Two minutes later, the Hornets were ahead as Fabbrini hit a lovely shot from the edge of the area.  Royston had a couple of chances to break back as Fehmi tried a shot from distance that hit the side netting, then Bradshaw put a shot well over the bar.

Fabbrini congratulated after scoring

Fabbrini congratulated after scoring

Lewis connected with a Byers free-kick, but his header was weak and straight at Yates.  Watford had a great chance to increase the lead but the Royston defence was resolute in blocking shots from Lewis and Martin before Murray’s shot was put out for a corner.  The visitors continued to threaten as Lewis broke forward with Fabbrini in close attendance but the attempted through ball was cut out.  So the visitors reached half time a goal to the good.  It had been an enjoyable first half with some lovely football from the Watford team, all of whom were working hard on a very heavy pitch.

At half time, there was an eerie atmosphere in the ground as the entire crowd (apart from Don and I) disappeared into the clubhouse and there was no music was playing over the tannoy.  Heaven knows why we decided to stay outside as it was bitterly cold.  But I feared that, if I ventured inside, I wouldn’t want to return for the second half.

Royston's turn to defend

Royston’s turn to defend

Royston had the first chance of the second period as substitute, Ingrey, shot over the bar.  Normal service resumed as Murray broke forward and fed Fabbrini whose shot was blocked.  Murray then launched a cross which flew over the head of the leaping Lewis.  For the home side a free kick from Fehmi was headed clear by Hoban.  A cross by Lewis to the far post was hooked clear.  On the hour, Folivi replaced Murray for the Hornets and Lockett came on for Watters for the Crows.  The indefatigable Fabbrini went on another run before passing to Martin whose shot was blocked.  Folivi played a short corner to Smith who returned the ball and Folivi hit a lovely shot that required a terrific save from Yates to keep it out.  A follow-up shot from Rowan was deflected over the bar.  It wasn’t all Watford as a cross from Dobson was hit goalwards by Ingrey but blocked.  Then Lewis fed Folivi whose shot was blocked.  With 15 minutes remaining, Stevens, who had replaced Kyprianou for the Hornets five minutes earlier, was booked for a foul on Dobson.  Bradshaw hit a hopeful shot straight into Gilmartin’s arms.  There was danger for the Hornets as Dobson broke into the box and unleashed a great strike that Gilmartin pushed over the bar.

Nothing will pass Fabbrini and Murray

Nothing will pass Fabbrini and Murray

At the other end, Fabbrini and Martin combined to feed Folivi whose shot was blocked.  With 5 minutes remaining, Martin pulled Dobson down just outside the box.  Fabbrini did an effective job as the only man in the wall, “intimidating” Dobson into curling the free kick wide of the far post.  Endacott fell under a challenge in the Watford box, his claims for a penalty were given short shrift by the referee who may have been lynched if he took the game to extra time.  Watford continued to press with a Martin run into the box where he played a square ball to Fabbrini who shot wide of the target.  Diego wasn’t to get his hat trick, but he did have a hand in the third goal, exchanging passes with Folivi who shot past Yates to seal the win in the last minute of the game.

Too often in these games, we have fielded an Under 18 team which has been beaten by the physical strength of the men fielded by the opposition.  The team fielded last night was a nice mix of youth and experience that continued to play lovely passing football in difficult conditions.  Royston certainly had their chances, but the Hornets were worthy winners and Fabbrini was a revelation on a cold night in Royston.

As Don and I came off the A1M a car came up beside us at the lights on the roundabout and sped off on green.  I noted that it had an Italian number plate.  When I caught up at the next set of lights, I glanced over to see Fabbrini in the driving seat of the least flash footballer’s car that I have seen since Jay DeMerit had that old mini.  Not for the first time that evening, my opinion of Diego went up a notch.

A Stunning Comeback Against the Gills

The GT poster in the Lower GT

The GT poster in the Lower GT

It was a cold, wet evening in November so what better way to spend it than watching the Under-21s in the Premier League Cup.  Entry to the ground was through the Hornet Shop and there was more than a touch of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the passage through a small door into a magical kingdom, although Narnia has nothing on Vicarage Road under the lights.  I had arranged to meet Don in the Lower GT disabled area and, as I descended the steps, I was delighted to see a huge poster with a quote from the great man.  Don then sent me back to see what I had missed.  On the steps up from the Rookery and those to the Upper GT, the great man’s achievements were commemorated.  A lovely touch, which brought a nostalgic tear to my eye.  But we were there to see the next generation (and Almen Abdi).

As with the trip to Bristol City our team looked strong, it was certainly good to see Abdi on a team sheet again.  The starting line-up was Ammann, Rowan, Hoban, Young, Doherty, Abdi, Murray, Byers, Smith, Jakubiak and Ikpeazu.

The corner that led to Gillingham's first goal

The corner that led to Gillingham’s first goal

The game started in the worst possible way for the home side as, in the fourth minute, a corner was headed goalwards by Davies, Ammann could only parry the ball and Norris turned it in at the near post.  Jakubiak tried to strike back but his shot was blocked for a corner.  Watford had the ball in the net in the 11th minute as a shot from Ikpeazu bounced up off the Gillingham keeper, Morris, and Hoban headed it into the empty net, but the linesman had his flag raised, so it didn’t count.  Norris threatened again with a header but Ammann got a hand to it.  Byers went on a run and fed Smith but the Irishman’s shot was straight at the keeper.  At the other end, Linganzi took a shot that flew over the bar.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Jakubiak went on a run and played a through ball to Ikpeazu whose shot was blocked by the keeper’s legs.  At the other end a shot from Norris was blocked by Smith.  Watford should have equalized on 35 minutes as a corner from Abdi was met with a header from Ikpeazu in front of goal.  It looked easier to score but the header flew over the bar.  The home side continued to threaten as a lovely through ball from Jakubiak reached Ikpeazu but his shot was gathered by Morris.  Byers then received the ball in the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  In time added on, a wonderful ball over the top from Abdi released Smith who found space for a shot, but Morris was on hand to block.

The two goal scorers celebrate together

The two goal scorers celebrate together

At the start of the second half, Folivi replaced Ikpeazu who didn’t look fully fit.  Folivi has been banging the goals in for the youth team, so I was looking forward to seeing him play.  Jakubiak broke into the box but seemed to be indecisive about whether to shoot or cross and ended up hitting a wayward pass that went out for a throw.  The Hornets went two down three minutes into the half as Blanchard hit a stunning volley that gave Ammann no chance.  It was a real blow to go two goals down and the chances of the young Hornets getting back into the game looked slim, which made what followed all the more enjoyable.  Ten minutes into the half Folivi released Jakubiak who hit a shot on the run that was smothered by Morris.  The next move involving the two front men resulted in the Hornets pulling a goal back.  Folivi closed down a clearance, the ball flew into the box where Jakubiak was on hand to shoot past Morris in the Gillingham goal.  On the hour, Abdi made way for Stewart.  It was great to see Almen back in action.  But back to the youngsters and Watford were level soon after as Murray played a ball out to Folivi on the right wing, he played a low cross into the box where Jakubiak took a touch to control the ball then blasted it into the net.  Delighted as I was with the equalizer, I was begging for a third goal at this point as it was freezing and the thought of extra time and penalties was not appealing.  Gillingham tried to hit back with a cross-cum-shot from Freiter but Ammann parried it to safety.

Congratulating Folivi

Congratulating Folivi

It was the substitute, Folivi, who completed the Watford come back receiving a pass from Byers and hitting a shot from distance into the top corner.  It was a thrilling goal.  Folivi had a chance to grab another as he latched on to a pass from Byers into the box, but a defender was in close attendance and he tumbled.  The referee indicated a free kick for the visitors and appeared to be about to book Folivi for a dive (which it wasn’t), but instead showed the card to Romeo who had clattered Folivi earlier in the move.  Sellens was the next to threaten the Watford goal but his shot was wide of the target,  At this point we were visited in the disabled enclosure by a lovely man from the catering department who gave us each a portion of chips.  Crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, just what the doctor ordered on a cold night.  Back to the action on the pitch, a shot from Freiter was deflected wide.  From the corner Staunton headed over the target.  At the other end Murray tried a shot from distance that was saved by the Gillingham keeper.  The visitors launched a counter attack but Ammann was down to save the shot from Pritchard.  With 8 minutes remaining, Murray made way for Lewis.  Byers had a chance to increase the lead but shot well wide of the target.  At this point, there was suddenly a burst of song from the Upper GT.  Most uncharacteristic.  In the dying minutes of the game, Freiter broke forward but Hoban was on hand to clear.  Connor Smith was booked for a rather reckless tackle on Blanchard and the final action was a Gillingham corner that was headed over the bar by Staunton.  So the young Hornets reached the final 16 after a lively second half performance achieved a result that had looked highly unlikely early in the half.

 

Arie Ammann

Arie Ammann

So a very impressive come from behind win by the under 21s.  Despite the appearance of players with first team experience, it was the kids that caught the eye.  Charlie Rowan put in a good shift in the centre of defence.  George Byers worked hard creating a lot of chances.  Alex jakubiak never stopped working and was a constant threat on the Gillingham goal.  Michael Folivi was super sub scoring one and providing assists for the other two goals.  So, on a cold wet night, I left Vicarage Road with a huge smile on my face having been royally entertained.

Young Hornets Defeat the Baby Robins

Watford starting line-up

Watford starting line-up

Monday evening saw Watford visiting Bristol City for the second preliminary round of the Under-21 Premier League Cup.  Since it was a fairly easy journey down the M4 after work, I decided to make the trip.  The beauty of attending games like this is that you can park right outside the ground and take your pick of the seats, mine being a rather nice padded effort on the half-way line in the “premium” section.  I was paying for my seat but there was some confusion among those in front of me who had complimentary tickets, but were still asked to pay a pound to get in.  The explanation was that this was because it was an FA Cup game.  How odd.

Despite being an U21 competition, the rules state that you are allowed to field up to three overage players and an overage goalkeeper, which meant starts for Gilmartin, Cathcart and Smith.  The only academy scholar to start was Alfie Young.  The City team was a mix of U-18s and U-21s.  Watford’s starting line-up was Gilmartin, Doherty, Hoban, Cathcart, Young, Murray, Smith, Byers, Ikpeazu, Mensah and Jakubiak, which looked very strong on paper.

Mensah and Murray prepare for a free-kick

Mensah and Murray prepare for a free-kick

Watford started well.  Mensah had a shot saved in the early minutes.  He then won a corner which was taken by Murray and met by a flying header from Jakubiak which went wide of the target.  For the home side, a short corner was played to Hall on the edge of the box but he also powered his shot wide.  Morrell beat the Watford defence but shot over the bar.  Ikpeazu dribbled along the top of the box to get into shooting position but his shot was weak and easy for the City keeper.  Doherty intercepted the ball and played it out to Smith who played a chip into the box, but Ikpeazu couldn’t reach it.  The home side had a good chance to take the lead with a free-kick on the edge of the box, but Morrell’s set piece was headed wide by a Watford defender.  At the other end, Cathcart tried to release Mensah, but the through ball was just too heavy.  Jakubiak was the next to threaten, but his shot flew across the goal.

Uche Ikpeazu

Uche Ikpeazu

The home side took the lead on 18 minutes as the Hornets failed to clear a low cross which travelled the width of the box to reach Wynter who knocked it past Gilmartin much to the disappointment of the half dozen Watford fans in attendance.  A cross by Horgan was put out for a corner by Cathcart.  Young lofted a ball into the box but it was gathered by Richards with Ikpeazu closing in.  Morrell tried a curling shot but it was straight at Gilmartin.  Ikpeazu managed to break through the City defence, but mis-controlled allowing Richards to gather.  A free kick from Mensah was hit straight into the keeper’s arms.  Watford had a very good spell of possession but chances were at a premium as every forward run was met by a resolute defender.  On 39 minutes, Watford equalized with a lovely shot from Mensah that he curled just under the crossbar.  The goal was particularly appreciated by Bernard’s girlfriend and her pal who were sitting in front of me.  City could have hit back almost immediately as a dangerous ball was played through to Horgan, Gilmartin came to meet him leaving the goal exposed but, fortunately, the shot drifted wide.  In the dying minutes of the half, Murray played a pass out to Mensah who curled a cross into the box, but it was just too far in front of Ikpeazu for him to shoot.  At the other end the ball fell to Hall in space in the box, but his volley was ambitious and well off target.  The last action of the half was a Watford free-kick in a dangerous position, but Murray’s delivery was disappointing, flying well over the bar.

Byers, Smith and Gilmartin defending a corner

Byers, Smith and Gilmartin defending a corner

Mensah had started the second half limping after being clattered a few times in the first period, so he was soon replaced by Dennon Lewis.  City threatened as Hall crossed and Burns and Horgan leapt to head the ball but it eluded them both.  Doherty played Ikpeazu in, he did really well to beat the defender, but his shot was easy for the keeper.  At the other end, Hall had a shot deflected wide by Cathcart.  From the corner, Vyner headed over the bar.  For the visitors, Connor Smith played a clever back heel to Jakubiak, but the youngster’s shot was saved.  On 70 minutes Cathcart was replaced by Charlie Rowan.  Jakubiak really should have put the visitors in front as he beat the keeper, but the ball bobbled so he found himself with his back to the open goal and tried a back heel that agonizingly rolled wide of the far post.  At the other end, a powerful shot from Morrell flew wide of the near post.  Ikpeazu, who was playing his first game since a long injury lay-off had grown into the game and did well to skip into the box evading a couple of challenges but his shot was blocked by a defender.

A defensive wall

A defensive wall

Ikpeazu then played a through ball to Jakubiak, but the City keeper narrowed the angle so he shot just wide of the target.  In a rare second half attack for the home side, Horgan played the ball through to Hall but Gilmartin was out to block and the flag was up anyway.  Horgan threatened again with a shot that was just wide.  Ikpeazu was crowded out as he went for goal when he probably should have passed to Lewis who was in space.  An injury to Last forced City to make a substitution with Mafuta the replacement.  Watford continued to press for the winner but a Murray free-kick eluded Ikpeazu.  Then Lewis played a cross that was missed by everyone in the box.  City also had a late chance with a corner that was headed over the bar.  The final action of normal time was another Murray free-kick that Ikpeazu failed to connect with.

The goal celebration following the penalty was a blur

The goal celebration following the penalty was a blur

The home side dominated the opening exchanges of extra time as Horgan found Fry who was closed down before he could shoot.  Gilmartin pulled off an excellent save to a shot from distance by Mafuta.  For the Hornets, Ikpeazu broke into the box, beat a defender but overplayed the ball and it rolled through to the keeper.  Substitute Ronan got on the end of a corner but hit his shot wide.  Watford’s final substitution saw Folivi replacing Jakubiak.  Burns was blocked by Doherty on the edge of the box earning the Watford man a yellow card.  Then Gilmartin had to drop to save a low shot from Horgan.  City had a great chance to take the lead early in the second period of extra time as a shot from Morrell cannoned back off the crossbar, the follow-up from Horgan was saved.  But it was Watford who went in front soon after as Ikpeazu was bundled over in the box.  He stepped up to take the penalty himself sending the City keeper the wrong way to break the deadlock.

Connor Smith

Connor Smith

The home side could have broken back almost immediately as Mafuta hit a belter of a shot that Gilmartin did well to keep out.  City made a late substitution replacing Fry with Mattis.  Batten was booked for a foul on Folivi as the Watford man attempted to break.  Watford set up a defensive rearguard for the final minutes, but City were hopeful of taking the game to penalties as Burns went down in the box but the referee was no more convinced than I was of the merits of the penalty shout and the visitors emerged as winners.

We’d made heavy weather of it having the lion’s share of possession without making it count.  Hoban had an impressive game in the centre of defence notable for his encouragement of the younger players.  Mensah’s goal was a peach and Ikpeazu grew from a slow start to really take hold of the game once Mensah went off and he deserved his goal for his perseverance.  All in all, a good evening’s entertainment.

Goalless at the Stones

The teams enter the field

The teams enter the field

We’ve had a good relationship with Wealdstone in recent years, although I still feel guilty about the way they were treated during the ground share.  But that was in the Petchey years and he also screwed us, so the behaviour was not out of character.  This pre-season game had been billed as a Watford development squad, but Dave Hughes’ squad was to be augmented with a couple of first team players.

Don, Trond and I were in the disabled area, so well placed to see who arrived to occupy the VIP stand (if there is such a thing at Wealdstone) as they had to walk past us.  I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo arrive with Gianluca Nani.  Marco Cesarini was the next to walk past us, so I said hello and he shook my hand and introduced me to his wife and children.  I had failed to notice that he was followed by Beppe and the first team coaches, all of whom shook our hands.  We had become an unofficial welcoming party.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

The starting line-up was Bond, Young, Doherty, O’Nien, Johnson (c), Brown, Tapoko (trialist), Smith, Jakubiak, Rosenthal and Fabbrini.  Former Watford youngsters Jonathan North and Elliott Godfrey started for Wealdstone.  There was a nice gesture from the excellent tannoy announcer who welcomed Smith and O’Nien back, both having been there on loan in recent seasons.

There was an early scare for the visitors as McGleish came in on the blind side of Johnson but, fortunately for us, his shot was wild and flew over the bar.  The same player threatened again soon after, cutting the ball back to Pigden, but Young was on hand to snuff out the danger.  Fabbrini had already been knocked over a couple of times, with no sympathy from the ref, when, in the 11th minute, he went down with a squeal of pain, holding his head.  He disappeared into the dressing rooms with the physio and we were playing with 10 men for 8 minutes.  Wright had a great chance to put the home side ahead, but his air shot gave the Watford defence time to clear the ball.

Smith and O'Nien

Smith and O’Nien

Watford’s first chance came as Smith got on the end of a low cross from Rosenthal, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Rosenthal was the next with a chance for Watford but his low shot from distance was easy for North to gather.  A forward run by Fabbrini was stopped rather brutally on the edge of the box, but the referee waved play on.  Rosenthal tried another shot from distance, but this time it flew over the bar.  On the half-hour, Mills took a free-kick for the Stones that was heading for the top corner until Bond leapt and turned it over the bar.  Then Collins broke into the box but Johnson was on hand to block the shot.  At the other end, O’Nien took a free-kick that flew just wide of the target.  With 5 minutes of the half remaining, Bond was blocked as he attempted to reach a free-kick, which fell to McGleish who shot over the bar.  Wealdstone continued to look for the opening goal as an excellent long pass reached Wright who cut it back to Okimo whose shot was repelled by a diving header from O’Nien, McGleish’s follow-up needed a smart save from Bond to keep the game goalless.  The last chance of the half fell to Rosenthal who, again, saw a shot from distance fly over the bar.  As the teams left the field Johnson and Bond were arguing with the referee.  The lino had missed some calls and the ref had been a little harsh on Fabbrini (yes, really), but I hadn’t seen anything that justified the apparent level of their complaint.  Certainly, Wealdstone had been the better of the teams in the first half.

Bond ready for anything

Bond ready for anything

The first chance of the second half went Watford’s way, but Fabbrini’s shot from distance was soft and didn’t trouble North in the Wealdstone goal.  We held our breath as Collins was tripped in the box, but the referee had been reluctant to blow up for fouls, which was to our advantage on this occasion as he waved play on.  On the hour, a Wealdstone corner was met with a header that flew over the bar.  Then Fabbrini broke through and was tripped, the ball broke to Jakubiak in the box but he couldn’t quite control it so his first shot rebounded off North, his second attempt beat the keeper but was cleared before it reached the goal.  Soon after, a free-kick from Doherty just cleared the crossbar.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Mahlondo Martin.  Jakubiak found space in the box but could only shoot wide of the near post.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Fabbrini was fouled yet again with nothing given by the officials.  I thought it was my yellow-tinted spectacles that provoked my sympathy until the Wealdstone fan behind us commented on the unfairness of the decisions.  At this stage Fabbrini was replaced by Folivi and, as he immediately walked to the dressing room, was followed by Sannino walking through the stand the two of them having a lively conversation.  On 72 minutes, Carl Stewart replaced Smith.  Jakubiak went on a great run and unleashed a shot, but North was equal to it.  The final Watford substitution saw Dennon Lewis replacing Tapoko, the trialist, who had a decent game in the midfield.  Martin had a good shot saved by Carter, who had replaced North in the Wealdstone goal.

Young defending

Young defending

With 10 minutes remaining, Lewis latched onto a ball over the top and passed back to Jakubiak who had a great chance to win the game, but shot just wide.  The final action of the game was a free-kick from O’Nien which was just over the bar, so the game ended goalless.  It had been a lively contest and Watford definitely had the best of the second half with Jakubiak a constant menace to the Wealdstone defence.

Despite the lack of goals, it had been a lovely evening to watch football and I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo in attendance, as well as Nani, Sannino and all the coaches, supporting the Development Squad.

Meeting the Russians in Bad Bleiburg

Drei Laerchen

Drei Laerchen

For the second weekend in a row, I was on an early morning flight to Austria.  This time we were heading for Salzburg where we picked up a hire car for the drive to Bad Bleiburg.  Once we worked out how to change the sat nav from what appeared to be a Scandinavian language to English, the drive was relatively straight forward.  As we headed through the mountain tunnels, the place names on the signs indicated that we were travelling through the towns that had constituted my favourite ski area when I lived in Austria.  It brought back very happy memories, but I don’t think I had ever visited that region when the slopes were green.  As we came off the motorway following the sat nav directions to Bad Bleiburg, we were a little concerned to find ourselves on a steep, narrow road through the forest that was difficult enough to negotiate in Summer.  Sure enough, barriers at both ends indicated that it can be closed in Winter.  On arriving in the village, we decided to have a look at the facilities.

The game is on

The game is on

Unlike the 30,000-seater stadium that we visited last week, this was a proper pre-season ground.  The standing area was mostly on one side with a small stand along half of that side of the ground and we were looking down onto the playing area with the mountains providing a picturesque backdrop.  What looked like a media box turned out to be the VIP section consisting of a couple of high seats with cup holders.  There were posters advertising our games over the weekend, which also indicated that there was a double-header planned for that afternoon with the local team playing Weiβenstein at 3pm.

After a detour for lunch and to check-in at our hotel, we arrived just before half-time in the warm up game to find the score was 2-2, which was a decent score against a team that we were told were from the division above our hosts.  The game was being played in blazing sunshine, so a beer was in order and then we were all set for the second half in which the visitors scored two additional goals thanks to some spectacularly bad goalkeeping.  The first being a free-kick which rather drifted in with the keeper berating his wall when it appeared that a step to his left would have allowed him to catch the ball which was hardly moving at pace.  The final goal was a speculative shot from the half way line.

Coming through the hedge

Coming through the hedge

The car park, such as it was, had filled up so I wondered where they would find space for two coaches. The Rubin Kazan team arrived and parked up and, soon after, our lads appeared through a gap in the hedge at the opposite side of the ground, having walked across the road from their hotel.  They crossed the pitch and then came up a covered stairway to the dressing rooms.  There had only been a couple of other Watford fans at the warm-up game but, as kick-off time approached, a few familiar faces appeared to supplement the local crowd.  Evidently there were some tricky pre-match negotiations between the officials of the two clubs, as I heard the conclusion that the game would be played with the Rubin Kazan ball in the first half and the Watford ball in the second.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

The starting line-up for Watford was Gomes, Doyley, Tamas, Angella, Pudil, Tözsér, Battocchio, McGugan, Forestieri, Vydra and Deeney, who was captain for the afternoon.  The Rubin Kazan team lined up wearing the highest numbers that I have ever seen in a football match.  As the captains met for the pre-match formalities, which included swapping pennants, the referee was heard to ask if there was a spare pennant for him.  Deeney dutifully went back to the Watford staff to relay the referee’s request.

With two minutes on the clock, Kverkvelia flattened Pudil.  McGugan took the free-kick which was pushed just wide by the Russian keeper, Filtsolv.  Rubin Kazan launched an attack, which we were struggling to clear.  Thankfully it finished with a shot from Kislyak that Gomes claimed.  The Russian team then had a really good spell.  First, a cross from Kverkvelia was played back to Getigezhev who blazed over.  Then a snap shot from the left required a good reaction save from Gomes.

A chance goes begging

A chance goes begging

On 18 minutes, Livaja curled a shot wide of the near post.  There was some respite as Watford won a free kick which was well taken by Tözsér but Filtsolv leapt and tipped it over the bar.  From the corner, Deeney headed past the keeper, but our celebrations were cut short as the referee indicated a foul that none of our party saw.  A clever dummy by Battocchio allowed the ball to reach Doyley in the box, but his shot was blocked.  At the other end, Mullin tried a shot from distance that flew wide of the near post.  There was a bit of handbags then as Forestieri fouled Mullin, who screamed in agony as he went down.  Fernando was having none of it and tried to pull him to his feet.  The Russian angrily leapt up and Deeney rushed over to get between them.  The Russian then collapsed in agony again to derision from the travelling Hornets, but he got his way when Forestieri was booked for the challenge.  Nabiullin tried a weak shot that was easily gathered by Gomes.  In the 38th minute, Tözsér took a free kick from the right that went over the bar.

A miss for Rubin Kazan

A miss for Rubin Kazan

Revenge is a dish best served cold and, just before half time, Fernando fell theatrically under a challenge from Mullin and his rival’s name joined his in the referee’s book.  The resulting free kick from McGugan was disappointing and easily gathered by Filtsolv.  Rubin Kazan threatened as the ball was given away on the wing, but Pudil stopped the danger with a great challenge in the box and eventually a corner was conceded.  From the set piece, the ball broke dangerously in the box but Pudil was on hand again to clear.  The half finished with a couple of chances for the Russians, but they continued to be wasteful as, first, Burlak launched a shot from a mile out that flew well over the bar.  Then a header from Livaja was well wide of the target.

It had been an enjoyable half of football with the Russian side providing a much sterner test than the two previous games in Austria.  They’d had a number of chances early on that they really should have done better with, but we were happy enough going into the break on level terms.  During the interval the heavens opened, but that wasn’t to deter those of us standing at the side of the pitch.  A bit of rain never hurt anyone.

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

At half time, Ekstrand, Anya, Dyer and Abdi replaced Angella, Vydra, Forestieri and McGugan.  Five minutes into the half, there was a fantastic move as Anya fed Deeney, who played a through ball to Dyer in the box, but a defender was on hand to take the ball from his feet.  In another cracking move, Battocchio fed Abdi who found Dyer who unleashed a vicious shot that cannoned back off the crossbar.  It fell to Deeney whose shot was blocked and cleared.  After what had been a really good spell for Watford, a chance fell to Devic but his shot was easy for Gomes.  Just before the hour, Abdi tried a speculative shot that was put out for a corner.  At this point Burlak, who was wearing 4 for Rubin Kazan, was replaced by Diakhite, who was wearing 99.  I can only think that Burlak’s shirt number was deemed too low.  There was danger for Watford as a free-kick from Karadeniz flew just over the bar.

Ready for a clearance

Ready for a clearance

Then there was a slight delay to the game as Pudil left the ground and appeared to go into a neighbouring garden to retrieve the ball.  Abdi and Battocchio combined before passing back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  The opposition were struggling to cope with our pace upfront and Anya was the next to break into the box but shot wide of the target.  At the half-way point in the second half Murray replaced Tözsér.  The Russians threatened with a back header from Asmoun which Gomes caught.  On a side note, Asmoun was wearing no 69 provoking sniggers from the less mature among our support (most of us).  Then Pudil tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar.  There was a spate of substitutions as Ranegie replaced Deeney, Hoban came on for Tamas and Fabbrini for Forestieri.  By this stage, the incessant rain meant that my notebook was a sopping mess, and any notes that I managed to make are barely legible.

Anya can't quite reach the ball before Filtsolv

Anya can’t quite reach the ball before Filtsolv

But I believe there was some lovely interplay between Fabbrini and Anya whose shot was blocked.  Then Fabbrini, Ranegie and Dyer combined, this time it was Fabbrini’s turn to shoot, but his effort was also blocked.  Doyley was replaced by Brown.  At this point, the conditions meant that note-making was almost impossible but I did note a decent Watford chance as a double shot from Ranegie was blocked followed by a great shot from Pudil that was deflected wide.  Doherty came on to replace Pudil for the final couple of minutes.  When the final whistle went, those of us who had stuck it out watching from the side of the pitch were soaked through.  The Watford squad waved goodbye and then disappeared through the hedge again to walk back to their hotel.

Doyley takes a throw in

Doyley takes a throw in

Despite the goalless scoreline, it had been an enjoyable game with Watford excellent in the second half.  It may seem sacrilege to suggest playing without Vydra and Forestieri in the starting line-up, but the thought of a front three of Dyer, Deeney and Anya terrorising Championship defences makes me very excited indeed.  As for the return of Tözsér, my shout of “welcome home” to him when he arrived at the ground was heartfelt and he didn’t disappoint in the game.

We went in search of some warmth and somewhere to eat.  The only place in wheelchair pushing distance was the hotel where the team were staying.  We tried to keep a respectful distance although I did beckon Doyley over for a kiss.  Beppe kindly came over and shook all of our hands and bought a round of drinks.  Since eating at the hotel didn’t seem to be an option, and we wanted to leave the players in peace, we made our way back towards town for dinner where we were joined by Gary and Dan, who we’d met in the ground so spent a lovely evening chatting about all things Watford.  Saturday was my birthday.  I had a lovely day watching Watford play in a gorgeous part of the world and even had a kiss from Lloyd Doyley.  I can’t imagine any better way to have spent the day.

My Holiday on Woerthersee

Woerthersee Stadium

Woerthersee Stadium

When the pre-season game in Klagenfurt was announced for 5th July, I knew that a long anticipated trip to Garsington Opera on the Friday and tickets for the theatre on Saturday meant that my attendance was not possible.  Then, on Thursday, the venue and kick-off time were announced and the temptation was too much to bear.  After all, I’d be home from the opera before midnight and the play will be on until the end of August and there were plenty of tickets left.  When I found there were still seats available on the weekend flights to Klagenfurt, my decision was made.  So Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, I was at Heathrow waiting for Don Fraser to appear for the trip to Klagenfurt.  Don was somewhat elusive due to a couple of dramas with the assistance at Heathrow, but he eventually appeared and we arrived in Klagenfurt on schedule.

We are in the right place

We are in the right place

There were no taxis available outside the airport so, when one finally turned up, the driver asked the others in the queue where they were going.  One young man was also heading to our hotel, so he shared the cab and told us that he was travelling with AS Monaco who were coming to the area for a training camp.  Needless to say, these were not the footballers that interested us.

After a lovely lunch and a relaxing afternoon, Don and I headed for the Wörthersee Stadium.  The stadium was very impressive indeed but, on arrival, the only footballers in evidence were the Monaco team having a practice game on the training pitch.  A few minutes later we saw a couple of familiar faces.  I must say that I am always greatly relieved to see someone with a Watford crest on his shirt when arriving at a pre-season venue just in case I have turned up at the wrong place.  In proper football saddo style, we positioned ourselves outside the players’ entrance and, very soon after, the coach appeared and the players piled off.  There were smiles and greetings from those who recognized us.  When Lloydy appeared, he just shook his head when he saw us, then came over and gave me a kiss.  He’d enjoyed his Summer, but wanted to forget the France game.  Then GianLuca Nani appeared and greeted us like old friends.

Don ready to report on the game

Don ready to report on the game

Once our guard of honour duties were complete, we enquired about the location of the supporters’ entrance to the stadium.  A steward, who clearly spoke no English and was taking no chances with my terrible German, directed us through the maze of corridors by means of smiles and pointing and, after taking a lift up, we emerged onto the concourse inside the beautiful arena and, as there was no obvious wheelchair area, took a place at one of the tables in the press area.  As Beppe came out onto the pitch for the warm-up, GianLuca pointed us out in the stand and we were treated to a wave and a greeting.  We’d positioned ourselves by the half-way line, so were soon joined by the players who were not taking part and the coaching staff.  Troy, Ikechi, Bernard Mensah and George Byers were the first to come up and they sat just in front of us, so we were treated to Troy’s opinions throughout the game which added greatly to the entertainment.

Gomes and Gartside warming up

Gomes and Gartside warming up

The Klagenfurt announcer, who was wearing a shirt with no 12 on the back (as were all the fans in replica shirts), went through a detailed description of the Klagenfurt players but did not deign to inform us of the Watford line-up, so it was the usual pre-season practice of trying to recognise these young footballers who all look the same to me.  I did pretty well as there have been no new hair cuts this Summer to fool me but, by the end of the first half, I had still not identified the no. 4.  I was embarrassed to have to ask who he was and was quite pleased to be told it was Tamas, so I had an excuse for not recognising him.

The starting line-up was Gomes, Brown, Cathcart, Tamas,  Pudil, Battocchio, Murray, McGugan, Dyer, Ranegie and Vydra.  I was a little surprised, but also gratified, to see that Murray was captain for the day. The first real attack of the game came from the home side and was thwarted by a wonderful saving tackle from Brown.  From the throw-in, the ball

So that's Gabriel Tamas

So that’s Gabriel Tamas

reached Prawda who shot high and wide.  The home side had another attempt on goal but the shot flew wide of the near post.  Watford’s first corner was taken by Dyer and a number among our support will be unhappy to hear that he took it short.  However, when the cross came in, it was met with a decent header from Vydra, but a Klagenfurt defender’s head was there to clear.  On 20 minutes, Vydra fed Dyer, whose shot was blocked by the keeper, Vydra picked up the loose ball and passed to Pudil whose attempt was also blocked.  Deeney was giving McGugan some grief as he lined up a shot and his judgement was proved right as Lewis’s attempt flew high and wide.  At the other end, a cross from the right was straight into Gomes’s arms.  Battocchio, who had made a great start, played a lovely ball over the top to Vydra, but the attentions of a defender prevented him getting a decent shot in.  Another pin point long ball, this time from Pudil, reached

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio but his cross was cut out before it reached Vydra.  On 26 minutes, we were a goal up as a lovely through ball from Murray found Dyer on the edge of the box.  He advanced and coolly slotted the ball past the Klagenfurt keeper.  A nice goal and the reaction of the players in the stands showed that Dyer is already a popular member of the playing staff.  The home side had a chance to strike back as a through ball found Zakany in the box, he tried a shot that was turned around the post by Gomes.  With 10 minutes to half time, the home side won a free kick in a dangerous position, it reached Prawda in the box but he headed wide of the near post.  Dyer nipped into the box, he was closed down so passed back to Ranegie, who decided to control the ball rather than just shooting and found himself with his back to goal so the chance was gone.  The home side tried to hit back just before half time with a free kick that was met with a strong headed clearance by Pudil.  On the stroke of half-time Klagenfurt won a corner, but it was coolly caught by Gomes.

Vydra on the attack

Vydra on the attack

At half-time, a Klagenfurt supporter stopped to talk with us.  He asked what we thought of the stadium.  I said it was beautiful, he looked sad and said, “But we have no fans.”  I wondered how they had the money to build such a stadium.  He told me that it had been built for Euro 2008.  He said that they have a good young team, but there is no TV money, no sponsorship and small crowds so they struggle.

At the start of the second half, Ekstrand, Hoban and Doyley replaced Cathcart, Tamas and Brown in defence with Fabbrini coming on for Ranegie upfront.  There was a scare for the visitors early on as we failed to clear a corner and the ball bounced goalwards, but Gomes saved with his feet.  From the corner Gomes came and caught the ball.  On 53 minutes, Pudil was booked for a late tackle on Zakany.  It was just in front of us and we could hear the victim’s rather dramatic scream.

Challenging in the Klagenfurt box

Challenging in the Klagenfurt box

Soon after, Murray played a one-two with Dyer and shot from a great position, but the ball curled high and wide.  On 57 minutes, Smith replaced McGugan.  The young Irishman was involved in the next move as he cut the ball back to Fabbrini who, if I’m being charitable, was fouled or, if I’m not, ran into the defender and collapsed.  Dyer then went off to be replaced by Jakubiak.  A shout of “Well played, Lloydy,” went up from Deeney and the new man looked up and smilingly acknowledged his teammate.  Then Doherty replaced Murray who gave the captain’s arm band to Pudil.  On 72 minutes a great run from Jakubiak appeared to have been stopped with a tackle that put the ball out for a corner, but it rebounded off the corner flag and stopped on the byeline, so Jakubiak retrieved it and hit a cross that just evaded Fabbrini and flew wide.  Then a decent shot from the home side was

The Klagenfurt keeper gathers

The Klagenfurt keeper gathers

just tipped wide by Gomes.  There followed a sublime move down the pitch by Watford, which finished with Pudil putting Vydra through one-on-one with the keeper.  Deeney’s shout of ‘slot machine’ indicated that he also thought that a second goal was inevitable, but Matej’s shot was too close to the keeper who managed to save, leaving me with my head in my hands.  Soon after, Vydra received the ball again but a bit further up the field.  Don shouted “Give it to Lloydy” so he did, but Lloyd’s cross drifted wide and the chance was lost.  With 10 minutes remaining O’Nien came on for Vydra and Gomes was replaced by a young keeper who, Alec told me, is a 16 year-old scholar called Nathan Gartside.  At this point, Jakubiak went upfront.  With a couple of minutes to go, Hoban lost out on the left but battled back to retrieve the ball, it flew into the air and was gathered by Gartside.  On 90 minutes, there was great work from Pudil who controlled a long high ball to the left and skipped past a defender to unleash a shot that was cleared off the line.  The game finished with a deserved one goal win for the Hornets.

Dyer takes a corner

Dyer takes a corner

As the players left the stand at the end of the game, Angella, who I sponsored this season, spotted me and said hello.  I asked if he was resting.  He lifted the leg of his shorts to show the strapping on his thigh.  Fortunately, Don was on hand with the smelling salts.

We left the ground and took up stalking position at the players’ entrance again.  Don had brought a shirt that he wanted signed and handed it over to Richard Line, the Operations Manager, who promised to get it signed during the week so that Don could pick it up next weekend.  He said he wouldn’t bother the players now.  At that point, Troy came over to talk to us, he signed the shirt and took it onto the bus and then into the dressing room and Don soon had a shirt full of signatures.  We welcomed Vydra ‘home’.  Then Beppe came over and thanked us for our support and told us that they were working hard for the new season.  This was confirmed by Richard Line who said that they had been doing double sessions every day, which would explain the fatigue shown during the game.  To be honest, I hadn’t expected them to go all out in the first pre-season game, but that made me a little more sympathetic to any perceived lack of effort.

Vydra threatens

Vydra threatens

We waved the coach off and went looking for the taxi that we’d booked to take us back to the hotel.  It was nowhere to be seen, so we headed back towards the car park and asked one of the locals if they had a number for a cab.  There was a family there and one of the lads kindly called us a taxi and they waited with us until it arrived, calling to ask where it was when it didn’t arrive on schedule.  While we were waiting, they told us a bit more about the club.  When the stadium was built, the club was in the top division, but they got into financial difficulties and were wound up.  The new club had to start again in the 3rd division.  They attract a very small crowd, c 1500, who rattle around in a stadium with a capacity of 30,000.  When our cab arrived, we said goodbye to our new friends and thanked them for their kindness.

When my alarm went at 4am on Saturday morning after 3.5 hours sleep, I wondered what the hell I was doing travelling to Austria for a football match.  But, as Don and I relaxed with a drink back at the hotel, we reflected on a cracking day out where we’d seen some football but also met some delightful people, many of them connected to our football club.  We both concluded that we couldn’t think of a better way to spend the weekend.